Supporting private initiative in Latin America
by Ewout Klungel
Although The Courier's main focus is on ACP countries, we try
from time to time to feature events in other parts of the developing world. The
author of this article, who works for the UNDP's Empretec programme in Uruguay,
reports on the initial success of an EU-sponsored scheme designed to promote the
expansion of business links in South America.
After the infamous, 'lost decade' of the 1980s, Latin America is
regaining the confidence of international banks and foreign investors. A wave of
democratisation has swept away the military dictatorships, economic reforms are
starting to bear fruit, and ambitious integration programmes such as the
Mercosur, have moved high on to the political agenda.
To help reinforce economic progress in the region, the EU
recently set up the AI-lnvest Programme-an initiative to promote entrepreneurial
cooperation between the Union and Latin America. It covers such areas as
technology transfers, the establishment of joint ventures, educational
activities and sub-contracting of public works. Initiated with a grant of ECU 20
million (with a 50% maximum for EU participation in projects) the programme
covers entrepreneurial cooperation between 33 European and Latin American
countries. One of its most innovative characteristics has been the creation of
Eurocenters of Entrepreneurial Cooperation. By the end of 1994, 12 of these were
up and running and 8 more were in the pipeline. Their function is to bring
together all local organisations and institutions that have the potential to
contribute to entrepreneurial cooperation and are interested in participating.
This covers such bodies as chambers of industry and commerce, employers' and
professional organisations, and institutions specialising in entrepreneurial or
development cooperation. The principal tasks of the Eurocenters are to:
-Inform enterprises about the Al-lnvest Programme and the
opportunities it provides;
-Look for European business partners using the
close links that have been established between the Eurocenters and their
European counterparts who are members of the Coopeco (Economic Cooperation)
-Analyse the enterprises' needs and improve both their professional
image and the image of their industrial cooperation and/or investment projects.
The Eurocenter Uruguay
A look at the functioning and accomplishments of the Eurocenter
in Uruguay offers a perspective of how the Programme operates. The country's
Chamber of Industry was selected as the location for the Centre which began
operating in October 1994. It brings together various organisations including
the sectoral commission of Mercosur, the national SME organisation, the Chamber
of Commerce and the Associacion Empretec (which coordinates several UNDP
programmes and has wide experience in organising trade missions and business
negotiation rounds). All of these bodies are able to consult the EU's BC-Net
network, a database containing company profiles which is intended to match the
interests of European and Uruguayan enterprises.
Additionally, the Eurocenter Uruguay has developed a series of
activities promoting the Al-lnvest Programme. A brochure has been designed, 1500
enterprises have been directly informed about the programme, articles have been
published in the country's main newspapers and radio interviews have been given.
Most importantly, all of Uruguay's main business associations have been
thoroughly briefed about Al-lnvest.
Information on business conventions in the EU is systematically
disseminated to Uruguayan companies. Trade missions have been organised to fairs
in Santiago and Cordoba producing promising results in terms of both export and
import opportunities. The most recent trade mission was to Hannover. Future
plans include an Italian trade mission to Uruguay and an Al-lnvest sponsored
Uruguayan mission to Asturias.
One of the biggest and most promising activities is planned for
October 1995. This is an EU-sponsored Round Table Business Meeting, organised in
association with Empretec, which is expected to attract some 300 participants.
It will cover five sectors: plastics, textiles, food, electronics and
biotechnology, and is open to any interested company. The only requirement is
the submission of a company profile for the Eurocenter to review, so as to
ensure that the enterprises attending have similar interests. The European
companies participating will be selected by the organisations that are members
of the Coopeco network. The Eurocenter maintains regular contacts with
'Coopecos' in the larger EU Member States but Robert Villamil, who is the
Eurocenter's Director, is keen to encourage participation from other Member
States. 'Events such as these are a great opportunity to initiate cooperation
with countries that trade with or invest little in Uruguay,' he points out.
There are already many examples of successful cooperation under
the Al-lnvest Programme and, with numerous business conventions planned for the
coming year, the momentum is expected to be maintained. Of course, business
cooperation between Europe and Latin America is not as developed as it could be.
Distance, language barriers, and different business cultures all have the effect
of limiting contacts, especially at the level of SMEs. But as Mr Villamil
emphasises, 'the Al-lnvest Programme, through its cooperation networks and the
business conventions it facilitates, can act as a stimulus to overcome these
barriers, bringing European and Latin American enterprises